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Bondmanship


Scripture has a good deal to say about bondservice. It is nowhere condemned. We do not have it in the so-called developed countries today, probably mainly because in most people's minds bondservice is synonymous with slavery. The truth is rather that what is called slavery is man's perversion of the idea of bondservice. Probably the nearest thing to bondservice we have today is military service: a person in military service is on call twenty four hours a day (or was when I did my national service). There are other kinds of service contracts which are in some respects similar to bondmanship, such as articles of clerkship which a person signed (or used to sign) when taken on to learn a profession such as accountancy, as I did myself. In Scripture a bondman was often bought with money (as professional footballers are today) and this is recognised in the law of Moses - Exodus 12:44. In Scripture the Hebrew word for bondman appears some 769 times and the Greek word some 127 times. This does not include words used for bondwomen such as Hagar (Galatians 4:23). The bondman was often a privileged person as will be shown as we go on, but there were certainly cases where the bondman was in a degraded position as we get in Genesis 9:25 "Cursed be Canaan; Let him be a bondman of bondmen to his brethren". This was clearly a punishment for wrongdoing and should not be taken as a sample of all bondmanship. Neither should we use the kind of bondservice to which the Israelites were subjected to in Egypt (Deuteronomy 26:6) as an example of what God would approve of.

In Genesis 24 we have Abraham's servant spoken of (the word is the Hebrew one used for bondman). He had a very privileged position, being the one who had all the treasure of Abraham under his hand (verse 10). Further, he had the very responsible job of going on, what was in those days, a long journey to get a wife for Abraham's Son Isaac. This commission he fulfilled and the subsequent marriage was entirely successful for Isaac loved Rebecca (verse 67). Some may think that the word bondman should not be applied to Abraham's servant and that the underlying Hebrew word has a much wider use than that of bondman. In fact the AV in the majority of cases translates the Hebrew word for bondman as simply servant. However that may be, Joseph was clearly in the position of a bondman, for he was bought for money (Genesis 39:1), though he later rose to a position of trust in Potipher's house (Genesis 39:2-6).

Coming now to the position of the Hebrew bondman under the law of Moses. According to Exodus 12:43-45 he was in a better position than a stranger, a settler or a hired servant for if he were circumcised he was allowed to eat the passover. Further, the Hebrew bondman was effectively under a contract to his master which gave him the right to go out free in the seventh year (Exodus 21:1-6). However, he had the option of remaining a bondman and one of the reasons for this was that he loved his master. He would hardly have done this if his master had not been good to him. It would appear that Shimei was not a good master, else his two servants would not have run away. This shows that there was a good deal wrong with Shimei; it was not just his treatment of David (1 Kings 2:36-46).

In the New Testament we find that a bondman is well spoken of. In the parable of the prodigal Son the prodigal asked for the position of a hired servant; one who had a status lower than that of a bondman (Luke 15:17-19). It was not a hired servant that was given the task of getting out the best robe etc. but the bondmen (Luke 15:22/23). Further, in Mark 13:34 we are told that when the master of the house went away he gave to "his bondmen the authority". This is not the popular idea of a slave being urged to work harder by the use of whips !

Then there were the apostles who were quite ready to use their authoritative position as Christ's bondmen when necessary to, we may say, bring those in the assembly into line who were not behaving as they should (Galatians 1:9/10; 2 Corinthians 10:8; 13:1/2 & 10). The ones who Christ was referring to in Mark 13:34 quoted above were really his own apostles, they were his bondmen and had his authority (Philippians 1:1). No one supposes that the apostles were miserable slaves !

Finally, it may be noticed that the word for bondman is used in the Old Testament of Moses (Malachi 4:4) and prophetically of Christ (Isaiah 42:1). In the New we have it said of Christ that he "emptied himself, taking a bondman's form". This is over against the statement that he "did not esteem it an object of rapine to be on an equality with God". In other words, being a 'bondman' is the opposite of being 'on equality' (Philippians 2:6/7). Bondmanship implies service and service implies obedience. With Christ it involved him "becoming obedient even unto death" (Philippians 2:8).

The point of all this is that because of the often degrading treatment meted out to slaves taken from their homeland in Africa to the New World the whole idea if bondmanship has become something which very few would now be prepared to seriously advocate in any form. It is often assumed that the writers of Scripture just accepted the situation as they found it and that what is said in Scripture as to it neither approves nor condemns it. This is a view which does not have any real biblical support as will be seen from what has been said above. The teaching of Scripture is that bondmanship is not wrong in itself but it can very


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